SUNY Albany student association moves to make student activity fee mandatory

If at first you don’t succeed, try again.

Last month the students at the State University of New York at Albany (UAlbany) exercised their right to vote, albeit to the displeasure of many on the school's Student Association (SA). The item in question was UAlbany’s Student Activity Fee.

The Student Activity Fee (SAF), which the student body votes on every two years, is a $100 payment (included in tuition) from all full-time students, which is used to fund various campus organizations and activities as well as stipends for high-ranking elected SA officials (During the 2013-2014 school year alone, a total of $53,000 of the $1,495,405 of the UAlbany’s SAF went to SA stipends). This particular biennial vote determines whether the fee shall be mandatory or voluntary for all students.

The results of the March 9th vote, during UAlbany’s general election period, rendered the fee voluntary. Soon after, UAlbany’s SA met to pass legislation which would allow them to hold a referendum outside of a general election, paving the way for a revote on the SAF.

The constitutionality of these actions have been called into question by some SA members. An anonymous senator told Albany Student Press that he was “concerned with the precedent set saying that we will overturn elections again and again, until we get the results we want. And that’s not a precedent we want to set.”

SA members who support the re-vote argue that the ballot did not follow certain SUNY guidelines and that an abstention option, taken by 7.7% of voters, might have confused the student body. The abstention was removed for the new ballot.

Some also worried that the re-vote might not receive enough ballots. According to Senator Conner Dunleavy, if less than 10% of the student body voted in the makeshift election, the results would not have been binding and the decision would have reverted back to the results of the last valid election. Because the March 9 vote was also deemed invalid, the decision would have reverted back to a 2013 vote, which made the fee mandatory.

Dunleavy also noted that, though the SAF may be essential to UAlbany campus life, funding over 200 student organizations, he believes that the SA must listen to the students and not overturn undesirable outcomes.

Dunleavy’s position echoes of the feelings of some in the student body.

“[N]o matter what, this fee is going to be passed, and it’s going to become mandatory,” Michelle Checchi wrote in her Albany Student Press Letter from the Editor.

“This is not how democracy works. Just because you don’t like the way a popular vote goes does not give you the right to re-do it as you want,” said Junior Mike Popowski.

In the end, the measure passed after an early April revote.

Dunleavy told Campus Reform that the campus was in a “heated debate,” noting that students who oppose the fee are pointing to “waste and poor stewardship of funding by the Student Association.”

However, he believes fear over losing clubs and the “SA itself, arguing that without this funding the student run ambulance service, and counseling center would be suspended, [led to] the students vot[ing] overwhelmingly in favor of a mandatory fee.”

“After an intense campaign,” Dunleavy added, ”the Student Association got what they wanted.”

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